The San Francisco 49ers' passing attack has been the worst in the NFL, but they shouldn't rush wide receiver Michael Crabtree back onto the field. Instead, they should try to make sure he is 100 percent for the playoffs.
The 26-year-old tore his Achilles in the offseason and had surgery in May. Now he is getting close to returning to the field. When looking at the schedule, the 49ers shouldn't be pushing the wideout to get back on the field until he's ready.
Crabtree was cleared to practice on Nov. 5, which means the team has until Nov. 26 to activate him off the physically unable to perform list. That means the deadline is the day after Week 12's Monday Night Football game against the Washington Redskins.
Quarterback Colin Kaepernick could use Crabtree as the 49ers rank 32nd in the NFL with only 168 passing yards per game. However, the team doesn't need the receiver just yet.
San Francisco sits at 6-4 and in second place of the NFC West. It is probably out of the division race, but a wild-card spot is still a possibility. Four of the team's remaining six games—at Washington, vs. St. Louis, at Tampa Bay and vs. Atlanta—are very winnable. The 49ers also have to host the Seattle Seahawks and play at the Arizona Cardinals.
If they can get through the next three weeks in good shape without him, they can start easing him back into action after they play the Seahawks.
Crabtree is a big-play threat when he is on the field. His receiving yards have increased every year since he was drafted, and in 2012 he had 85 receptions for 1,105 yards and nine touchdowns, all of which are career highs.
The receiver thrived with Kaepernick at quarterback. In the first eight games of the 2012-2013 season, he averaged only 55 yards per game and had only three touchdowns. Once Kaepernick came in against the Rams, the two had great chemistry. The wideout averaged 83.1 yards and had three 100-yard games in the final eight weeks. He also added six touchdowns during that stretch.
It didn't just stop there. His hot streak carried over into the playoffs as he led his team to the Super Bowl. Crabtree had 285 yards, including two 100-yard games, and three touchdowns in the playoffs. He averaged 102.9 yards over his final eight games.
His late-season performance showed why the 49ers took drafted him in the first round back in 2009.
That kind of explosiveness shows why San Francisco needs to make sure he is healthy for another postseason run.
San Francisco ranks fifth in the league in rushing with 141 yards per game. Its rushing attack and defense are good enough to win games, but a prolific receiver can put the team over the top.
Receiver Anquan Boldin and tight end Vernon Davis each have more than 550 receiving yards and have combined for 11 touchdowns this season. Kaepernick has only 11 touchdown passes through 10 games, so in other words, all of his touchdowns have gone to two players.
However, nobody else in the receiving corps has stepped up. No other receiver has more than 176 yards.
Once Crabtree gets back onto the field, he will drastically improve the passing game. Crabtree, Boldin and Davis would combine to give San Francisco one of the most dangerous group of targets in the league. As long as he plays in a game or two in the regular season, that should be enough to get him ready for the postseason.
49ers fans are getting impatient with the passing game, but they should be looking at the big picture. This is a playoff team. Crabtree showed in last year's postseason that he can be a star, so making sure he is healthy for January has to be a priority.
The team shouldn't rush Crabtree back, but if he's activated the 49ers will have to make sure that he sees some action in the regular season.
An Achilles injury could make it tough for Crabtree to duplicate his performance from last year's late-season surge, but his presence would be a major upgrade for the 49ers.
*All stats are via NFL.com